A Ford, Not a Lincoln: The Value of Plain Talk

“I am a Ford, not a Lincoln,” said President Gerald R. Ford. “My addresses will never be as eloquent as those of President Lincoln. But I will do my very best to equal his brevity and his plain speaking.”

In my opinion, those sentiments are most fitting for anyone in the service business, particularly those of us in automotive services, like fast lubes. That same brevity and plain speaking is what customers repeatedly ask for when it comes to how the necessary automotive services are explained to them.

On Saturdays, I often listen to a local radio call-in show surrounding various aspects of car talk. During a recent broadcast, a lady called in and asked the hosts an interesting question. Her question pretty much stumped the two program commentators who both have long histories in automotive service and repair. She ended her call with what I believe was another profound question.

She asked, “Why do those of you in the world of auto repair find it necessary to use long, complicated language in telling me what my car needs?”

The hosts responded “Can you give us an example?”

The caller said, “OK, just tell me this; why is a synthetic oil better for my car?”

The two hosts alternated their expert response filled with technical language, including phrases like, “…Better chemical and shear stability… decreased evaporative loss…resistance to oxidation, thermal breakdown and oil sludge problems…”

When their response was concluded there was dead silence on the other end of the line.

Finally, the caller said, “Do you really believe any of that means a darn thing to me?”

The hosts didn’t quite know what to say and only listened while the caller concluded with this, “Stop trying to impress each other, or anyone listening, with a lot of language only you understand! Why can’t you just talk to me about my car in a way I can understand?”

After she hung up, the hosts still didn’t get it and said, “Sorry, we don’t know another way of explaining that information.”

Sometimes, we can get so close to what we do in the world of automotive service we forget how to speak to customers who have everyday questions in everyday language. That said, I would hope fast lube operators, like you, will make an earnest effort to train your service staff to answer your customers’ questions in everyday language. If one of your customers asked about synthetic vs. conventional oil, I hope one of your service staff would respond better than the radio hosts did.

Perhaps they would say something more like, “Mrs. Brown, synthetic oils are more expensive, but the benefits may be worth the expense. Let me explain. Chemically, they last significantly longer than conventional motor oil. Engine parts are moving at high speeds and can wear and break down. Synthetic oils retain their wear protection properties longer, compared to conventional oil, helping to protect your engine longer.”
Someone once said, “Only friendship which can stand occasional plain speaking is worth having.”

In that same vein, may I suggest a slightly revised quote from your fast lube customers’ perspective; “Only a fast lube which can stand plain speaking to their customers is worth patronizing!”